What Happens When Romantic Couples Discuss Personal Loss? Relational, Emotional, and Physiological Impacts

Gayla Margolin, Marie Ève Daspe, Adela C. Timmons, Geoffrey W. Corner, Corey Pettit, Hannah F. Rasmussen, Theodora Chaspari, Sohyun C. Han, Reout Arbel, Lauren Spies Shapiro, Kelly F.M. Kazmierski, Larissa B.Del Piero, Hannah L. Schacter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Does talking about loss with a romantic partner have salutary personal and relationship effects? Prior evidence reveals the benefits of emotional disclosure in couple relationships, yet disclosure about loss has been overlooked in research on couple communication. Using a novel communication paradigm with young–adult heterosexual romantic partners (N = 114 couples), we investigated emotions, physiological arousal (skin conductance responses [SCR]), and relationship closeness when narrating a personal loss and listening to the partner’s loss, and compared these loss discussions to discussions about desired relationship changes. Based on partners’ self-reports, narrating loss elicited more vulnerable and, unexpectedly, more antagonistic emotions. Both narrating and listening to loss produced higher self-reported partner closeness, compared to discussing change. In support of the physiological benefits of disclosure, women’s SCRs decreased over the discussion when they narrated their own loss. However, both women and men as listeners show a general trend of increasing SCRs over the discussion, suggesting the challenges of being a responsive partner. Moreover, in line with the putative protective effects of partners’ biological interdependencies, partner closeness also was higher when both partners showed synchronous decreasing SCR as women narrated their loss. Although limited to young couples in relatively short relationships, these findings reveal some potential benefits of talking about loss in the context of romantic relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)863-873
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by NSF Grant BCS-1627272 (Margolin, PI), and NIH Grant R21HD072170-A1 (Margolin, PI). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NSF or the NIH. The authors thank members of the USC Family Studies Project who contributed to data collection and processing, and to couples who gave generously of their time by participating in the research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Psychological Association


  • Couples
  • Loss
  • Partner discussions
  • Relationship closeness
  • Skin conductance responses
  • Sexual Partners/psychology
  • Heterosexuality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Emotions
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (all)


Dive into the research topics of 'What Happens When Romantic Couples Discuss Personal Loss? Relational, Emotional, and Physiological Impacts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this